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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2021 1 year ago

Max Schaked wins American Legion oration competition

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The 17-year-old Windermere resident sets a high bar for himself, whether it’s winning multiple levels of a speech contest or mapping out plans to become a diplomat.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

Public speaking is close to the top of the list of Max Schaked’s favorite activities. And this time, it has earned him thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

The 17-year-old Lake Highland Preparatory School senior won $9,000 in prize money in the American Legion Oratorical Contest by writing a thought-provoking speech that bested competitors representing more than 300 American Legion posts statewide.

“I absolutely love speaking,” Schaked said. “I love inspiring people through what I’m about to say. (It lets) people learn something and can potentially influence other people’s life. People came up to me afterward and said not only do they appreciate what I said but they are going to utilize it.”

His speech focused on the importance of citizens recognizing “the power of the people.”

“I don’t think people understand the power of our rights,” he said. “I think we can use that power …  (to) bring a balance, a greater balance to these interactions. Whereas, a lot of people think today that government is this scary figure that has this power over the people. I think once we understand the power, it’s not so scary anymore and we can have these positive mental interactions that will help our nation — and help the individuals as well.”

Schaked represented Post 63 and Winter Garden at all levels of the national competition and excelled on each occasion. After being declared the top speaker at the post level, he continued winning at the district and eastern area levels before taking first place at the state competition. There he earned $2,500.

The national contest was canceled because of COVID-19; otherwise, Schaked would have been in the running for $28,000 in scholarships. Instead, he received another $5,000 from American Legion National.

“We are all very confident — had (American Legion) National been able to hold the competition this year — that he would’ve clearly been a strong contender to win the national title,” American Legion Post 63 Commander Kurt Gies said. “This was evidenced from the comments made by the judges at all levels that he competed in. Post 63 is proud of his efforts and all the kids that get involved in our American Legion Americanism programs.”

Schaked is a member of the Speech and Debate Team at Lake Highland Prep and been engaging in public speaking since he was in eighth grade. This year, all of the speech and debate events were held virtually.

“When I spoke over Zoom, it didn’t have the same effect,” he said. “Even the presence of it, the fun of it, the adventure. So, I kept looking for opportunities to speak in public.”

He said the American Legion contest interested him because the competitions were held in person, and he has become friends with many of the members of Post 63.

“It’s a relationship with the American Legion that I’m very proud of and I’ll continue to hold onto to,” Schaked said. “The people I’ve met through the American Legion have been incredible on my journey. Right after I left the state competition, the first thing I did was call (Commander Gies) up. He’s been a great mentor and a great friend throughout the process.”

The money earned will go toward Schaked’s college education. He hasn’t decided on a school, but he has his eyes on the West Coast.

“I applied for Stanford University; that’s where I would absolutely love to go,” he said. “I would love to major in international diplomacy, global studies, definitely international focused. I definitely want to be a diplomat. I want to work for the state department or the NSA. That would be an incredible path to travel down.

“I set the bar very high for myself, and it will push me every day to get there,” he said. “I’ll never be comfortable.”

The American Legion Oratorical Contest is designed to allow high school students the chance to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution. Student orators earn college scholarships, and the overall national contest winner typically gets a $25,000 scholarship.

“The message itself was a great message, a very inspiring message,” Schaked said. “I think a lot of people enjoyed my speaking presence in the room. I’ve been working on this for years.”

Max Schaked is the son of Aileen and Edgar Schaked, of Windermere.

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Amy Quesinberry is the community editor of the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She was born and raised in Winter Garden, grew up reading the community newspaper and has been employed there as a writer, photographer and editor since 1990....

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